Diversity of selected toll-like receptor genes in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and African leopards (Panthera pardus pardus).

René Meißner, Prudent S. Mokgokong, Chantelle Pretorius, Sven Winter, Kim Labuschagne, Antoinette Kotze, Stefan Prost, Petr Horin, Desire Lee Dalton, Pamela Burger

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The growing world population amplifies the anthropogenic impact on wildlife globally. With shrinking habitats, wild populations are being pushed to co-exist in close proximity to humans, leading to an increased threat of infectious disease. Therefore, understanding the immune system of a species is key to assess its resilience in a changing environment. The innate immunity system (IIS) is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens. High variability in IIS-genes, such as the toll-like receptor (TLR) genes, appears to be associated with resistance to infectious diseases. However, few studies have investigated diversity in TLR genes in non-model organisms and drawn conclusions for the conservation of vulnerable species. Large predators are threatened globally, and their populations increasingly have been declining over the last decades. Big cats, such as leopards (Panthera pardus) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are no exception to this trend and are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) including several subspecies, e.g., A. j. venaticus and P. p. melas, that already face extinction. To better understand vulnerability in terms of immune genetic diversity in the two sympatric occurring species, we compared selected TLR genes (TLR2, TLR4, TLR6 and TLR8) between modern African leopards (P. p. pardus) and Southern African cheetahs (A. j. jubatus).
Our study supports the previously detected high genetic diversity in African leopards and confirms genetic impoverishment in Southern African cheetahs. Despite notable differences, both species share some haplotypic similarities in the investigated TLRs. Moreover, our historic cheetah samples from all five subspecies showed levels of genetic diversity comparable to modern African leopards. By including historic cheetahs and samples from all known subspecies, we put the observed IIS diversity into an evolutionary context.
The genetic diversity in the investigated TLR genes in modern Southern African cheetahs and in historic cheetahs is low compared to African leopards. However, according to previous studies, the low immune genetic diversity might not yet affect the health of this cheetah subspecies. Compared to historic cheetah data and other subspecies, a more recent population decline might explain the observed genetic impoverishment of TLR genes in modern Southern African cheetahs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3756
JournalNature Scientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2024


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